printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Japan


International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Share

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were a few restrictions.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog on and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 145,902 square miles, and its population is an estimated 127 million. Regular participation in formal religious activities by the public is low, and an accurate determination of the proportions of adherents to specific religions is difficult. According to the latest statistics published by the Agency for Cultural Affairs in March, approximately 49.7 percent of citizens adhered to Shintoism, 44.5 percent to Buddhism, 5.0 percent to so-called "new" religions, and 0.8 percent to Christianity. However, Shintoism and Buddhism are not mutually exclusive religions, and the figures do not represent the ratio of actual practitioners; most members claim to observe both. All other faiths are classified as "new religions" and include both local chapters of international religions such as the Unification Church of Japan and the Church of Scientology, as well as faiths founded in the country, such as Tenrikyo, Seichounoie, Sekai Kyusei Kyo, Perfect Liberty, and Risho Koseikai. A small segment of the population, predominantly foreign-born residents, attend Orthodox, Jewish, and Islamic services.

There are 28 Buddhist schools recognized by the Government under the 1951 Religious Corporation Law. The major Buddhist schools are Tendai, Shingon, Joudo, Zen, Nichiren, and Nara. In addition to traditional Buddhist orders, there are a number of Buddhist lay organizations, including the Soka Gakkai, which has more than 8 million members. The three main schools of Shintoism are Jinja, Kyoha, and Shinkyoha. Among Christians, Catholics and a number of Protestant denominations enjoy modest followings.

According to an April 2001 Justice Ministry report, the Aum Shinrikyo group, which lost its religious status following its 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, was renamed Aleph and had an estimated 1,650 followers, a decrease from 10,000 in 1995. However, in May 2002, Aum Shinrikyo/Aleph claimed to have only 1,187 members.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there are a few restrictions.

In response to Aum Shinrikyo terrorist attacks in 1995, a 1996 amendment to the Religious Corporation Law gives the authorities increased oversight of religious groups and requires greater disclosure of financial assets by religious corporations. The Diet enacted two additional laws in 1999 aimed at regulating the activities of Aum Shinrikyo/Aleph.

Some Buddhist and Shinto temples and shrines receive public support as national historic or cultural sites. In 1997 the Supreme Court ruled that a prefectural government may not contribute public funds to only one religious organization if the donations will support, encourage, and promote a specific religious group; however, no cases questioning the use of public funds in connection with a religious organization have been brought since 1998.

The Government does not require that religious groups be registered or licensed; however, to receive official recognition as a religious organization, which brings tax benefits and other advantages, a group must register as a "religious corporation." In practice, almost all religious groups register. The Cultural Affairs Agency listed 182,687 registered religious groups as of December 2001. In recent years, however, the Cultural Affairs Agency has estimated that as many as 5,000 of these groups are dormant, and the agency has taken legal action in an attempt to remove them from its registry. Since 1998 courts have accepted requests by the Cultural Affairs Agency to dissolve at least three dormant religious bodies that were registered under the Religious Corporation Law.

There are no known restrictions on proselytizing.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Aum Shinrikyo group (renamed Aleph), which lost its religious status following its 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, remained under government surveillance.

Members of the Unification Church and Jehovah's Witnesses continued to allege that police do not act in response to allegations of forced deprogramming of church members. They claim that police do not enforce the laws against kidnapping when the victim is held by family members and that Unification Church members are subjected to prolonged detention by individuals, whom the police do not charge. In August 2002, the courts declared "deprogramming" illegal in a case involving
Jehovah's Witnesses. However, during the year, the Supreme Court rejected the Unification Church��s appeal in a case involving charges against family and friends of church members for kidnaping and "deprogramming." In the Unification Church's case, the court determined that the causes of the appeal were not matters involving a violation of the Constitution.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. In November 2001, the Toyama District Court sentenced a woman to a 1-year suspended sentence for the theft of 4 copies of a religious text from a Muslim place of worship. In May 2001 the woman had thrown a defaced copy of the Koran at a place of business owned by a Muslim foreign resident. The defendant claimed that she had committed the act to embarrass her family publicly.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights, including the promotion of religious freedom internationally. The U.S. Embassy maintains periodic contact with representatives of religious organizations.



Back to Top
Sign-in

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.